Following an insurrection in the U.S. Capitol, the Brown community, including groups across the political spectrum, united in condemning the Jan. 6 incident.
“Disgusting is the word that keeps coming to mind,” Visiting Professor of the Practice of Political Science Richard Arenberg, who worked for over 34 years as a staffer in the Senate, told The Herald. “It’s really totally unprecedented.” Arenberg is a professor of the practice of political science and interim director of the Taubman Center for American Politics and Policy.
President Trump’s supporters, encouraged by the president in a rally earlier that day to march to the U.S. Capitol to contest the outcome of the election, broke through barricades and bypassed police Wednesday afternoon. In a presumed attempt to stop the Congressional certification of the Electoral College votes, the rioters stormed the building, vandalizing and taking selfies as they went. Members of Congress and congressional staff were evacuated.
Four people died, and more than 50 Capitol Police and metropolitan police were injured.
In an email to the University community, President Christina Paxson P’19 described yesterday’s events as “abhorrent.”
“Although I am confident these efforts won’t be successful, they are a reminder that democracy is precious but fragile,” she wrote. “We may take it for granted, but we shouldn’t.”
Students who spoke to The Herald expressed disgust at the shows of violence on display at the seat of American democracy.
Lucas Gelfond ’23.5 told The Herald he felt anger watching the events unfold on television, both at the rioters and at the police who failed to stop them. He said he saw videos on social media of a police officer taking a selfie with a rioter, and another of a police officer helping a Trump supporter down the steps of the Capitol.
The most striking images to him, Gelfond said, were those comparing the police presence Wednesday to that at Black Lives Matter protests over the summer. “This feels like law enforcement responded to this in such a different way, based on at least what seemed to me to be the skin color of the protesters,” Gelfond said. “That was really disheartening.”
Gelfond said he was not surprised that something like the insurgence at the Capitol would happen, given that President Trump “deeply encouraged” violence, in his view.
Student political organizations also condemned the insurrection in the Capitol.
Brown Votes, a Swearer Center for Public Service student group that advocates for voter registration and civic engagement, wrote in a statement that acts of violence in the Capitol “jeopardize every American’s ability to fully participate in our government.”
In a statement, Brown College Republicans called the insurrection “an attempted coup on the republic that our founding fathers fought to establish,” and said that “we must accept the people’s will and the results of the 2020 election.”
The group, which endorsed Trump for reelection, placed blame for the violence squarely on the president. “By misleading many American citizens into believing that the 2020 election was rigged or stolen and in turn inciting violence on the Capitol, President Trump demonstrated that he stands between America and a free, fair democracy,” the statement said.
But not all members of the Brown College Republicans agreed with assigning blame to Trump, according to the club’s president, Jessica McDonald ’21. “There is debate between club members about the role of President Trump and how much, if any, responsibility lies with him,” she wrote in a message to The Herald.
In their own statement, the College Democrats of Rhode Island, a coalition of Democratic groups from colleges around the state, called for Trump’s removal from office, either by Vice President Mike Pence invoking the 25th Amendment or by Congress impeaching the president. The group commended Rep. David Cicilline, D-RI, who circulated a letter Wednesday afternoon calling for Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment.
“President Trump abdicated responsibility for his office today by expressing his love for domestic terrorists and continuing to peddle dangerous lies about the 2020 election and our democratic process,” the College Democrats wrote. “As young people concerned with the future of our nation, we remind you that nothing less than the survival of our democracy is at stake.”
Jasmine Powell ’22, president of the Brown College Democrats, said she thinks the attack on the Capitol was “the culmination of so much.” Powell pointed to Trump’s rhetoric as the source of Wednesday’s violence, but admitted that the hatred that Trump tapped into is not new.
“A lot of the underlying hatred that people have that led them to go out there (Wednesday) has been around for years,” Powell said.
At a rally at the National Mall just prior to the attack on the Capitol, Trump, while spouting false claims about the results of the election, urged his supporters to “walk down to the Capitol,” adding that “we are going to have to fight so much harder.”
Powell reiterated others’ calls for Trump to be removed from office through the 25th Amendment or impeachment by Congress. If Trump is not removed from office, she said she believes Congress will be complicit in the violence incited by Trump.
In a video posted on his Twitter account Thursday night, Trump said that a “new administration” would be sworn in Jan. 20, effectively conceding the election to President-elect Joe Biden for the first time.
Multiple faculty members also called for Trump’s removal. A letter written by professors Brendan Nyhan and John Carey at Dartmouth and signed by hundreds of political scientists, described President Trump as “unwilling or unable to fulfill his oath.”
“The President’s actions threaten American democracy,” the letter says. “Our profession seeks to understand politics, not engage in it, but we share a commitment to democratic values.” University professors Jonathan Collins, Ross Cheit, Bonnie Honig and Robert Blair signed the letter.
“This is so much bigger than just a news headline,” Collins, assistant professor of education, told The Herald. “This is something that could determine whether or not we become more democratic or spiral into authoritarianism.”
Collins said that Trump’s rhetoric “opens a can of worms” for future elections and raises concerns that whichever party loses in the future may not accept the results. When democracy does not have a peaceful transfer of power, Collins said, “we lose the essence of what democracy is.”
Ben Glickman is the 132nd editor-in-chief and president of The Brown Daily Herald. He previously served as a metro editor and oversaw the College Hill and Fox Point beat, in addition to writing and editing about city politics, COVID-19 and the 2020 election. He is the co-creator of the Bruno Brief, The Herald's first news podcast. In his free time, he is passionate about birds (also tweeting) and eating way too spicy food.